Skip to main content

Full text of "The Aonac Tailteann and the Tailteann games : their origin, history, and ancient associations"

See other formats


t And 
ons tz 
















Introduction ... ... ... ... ... 7 

The " Aonach Tailteann " and the Tailteann Games ... 11 

The Aonach, a Public National Assembly ... ... 16 

The Games ... ... ... ..,. ... 21 

The Origin of the Tailteann Games ... ... ... 26 

An Ancient Manuscript Record ... ... ... 30 

Finn MacCool at the Aonach ... ... ... 36 

The Marriage Market ... ... ... ... 42 

Other Festive Assemblies in Ancient Ireland ... ... 47 

Aonach Carman ... ... ... ... ... 48 

Aonach Colmain ... ... ... ... ... 57 


I. The Irish Origin of the Olympic Games ... ... 61 

II. The Marathon Race ... ... ... ... 66 

III. The Sport Records of the World ... ... 70 

Championships. 1921 75 




THIS story of the historic games of Ancient 
Ireland has been compiled with a view to 
familiarising the Irish people with a knowledge, 
however imperfect, of their ancient greatness in 
the Athletic World. 

It is surely something to be proud of to know 
that our country has played a great and noble 
part in the Past, not merely in leading all the 
nations of Europe in intellectual culture and 
the higher arts of civilization, but also in the no 
less important province of physical development. 

Most Irish people know how distinguished 
their nation once was in the world of letters, 
when the great men of the world flocked to our 
shores for light and learning, but few of our 
people to-day, we fear, can claim a knowledge 
even as intimate with our ancient history as that 
shown by an eminent foreign writer who states : 

" Indeed, so far as history is concerned, Ireland 
boasts of by far the most ancient organised sports 
known, i.e., the Tailteann Games, or (as he also 
calls them) Lugnasad." 

It is surely something to our credit to have 
even this much admitted by a hostile writer, who, 
at the same time, confesses that anything even 
vaguely approaching organised sports was quite 
unknown in England until long after the 
Norman invasion, "when the nobles, for the first 
time, devoted themselves to the chase and the 
joust, while the people played games of ball on 
the village green." 

The chroniclers of succeeding centuries are 
silent concerning any athletic exercises more 
exciting in England than mere training for war. 
It is true, it is recorded that Henry V. (A.D. 1413) 
and two of his lords ran fast enough to catch a 
wild buck in an open park; but Edward III., 
a little earlier, actually prohibited weight-putting 
by statute. 

So small was the attention given to physical 
development and sports generally in England in 
A.D. 1509, that Richard Pace, the Secretary of 
Henry VIII., advised the sons of the noblemen 
to " leave study and learning to the children of 
the meaner people and practise their sports." 


In Ireland, On the other hand, learning and 
physical exercises went hand-in-hand from times 
long beyond chronological history. 

It is with a desire to recall such facts to the 
minds of our race that this little book has been 
written, in the hope that it may help to awaken 
once more a deeper interest in our glorious past, 
and assist, in a small way, in restoring some of 
the ancient athletic fame achieved by the 
Tailteann Games. 

T. H. N. 

Che "AOHA 



Their Origin, History, and Ancient 

THE adoption of the ancient historic title, 
" Aon.dc CxMlcexxnn," as a suitable name to 
characterise Ireland's great National Festival this 
year, and to distinguish it from all others of its 
kind in any part of the world, was not only a 
happy inspiration, but, at the present juncture, 
a singularly appropriate one. 

As originally established, away back in the 
nebulous mists that envelop the outer edges of 
chronological history almost two thousand years 
before the birth of Christ the Tailteann Games 
were primarily instituted as a tribute in honour 
of the Illustrious Dead. 


The Antiquity of the Irish Games. 

The earliest authentic records of these great 
National Games, contained in our ancient 
manuscripts, are associated with the death and 
burial of the renowned Queen Tailte, wife of 
King Eochaidh Mac Ere, the last Firbolg mon- 
arch of Erinn. 

She was the learned daughter of Mag Mor, a 
distinguished king of Spain, who reigned in the 
nineteenth century before the Incarnation; and 
her husband, Eochaidh (Aughy), was slain in 
the historic Battle of Moytura, fought between 
the Firbolgs and the invading colony of Tuatha 
De Danaan, on the plains of Cong, in County 
Mayo, in 1896 B.C. 

This, it may be remarked, is one of the oldest, 
if not actually the very oldest, events of which 
authentic records exist in ancient Irish history. 

As, however, the mere mention of such bald 
and otherwise uninteresting dates conveys no 
adequate idea of their antiquity to the mind of 
the ordinary reader, it may serve to awaken some 
additional interest in the subject if we associate 
them with some of the great outstanding events 
in the contemporary history of the world. 


Other Historic Dates compared with Tailteann. 

It will, no doubt, surprise some of our readers 
to learn that the Tailteann Games were instituted 
and celebrated in ancient Ireland more than a 
thousand years before the misty, if not mythical, 
Romulus is supposed to have yoked his oxen 
and ploughed his legendary furrow around the 
great circle within which the ancient city of 
Rome, with its many Caesars and wonderful 
history, was subsequently to arise to fame. 

Nor was the far-famed city of Troy, of which 
Homer sings in his Iliad, and the story of which 
has proved an interesting but tearful task to 
many of us in our schooldays, yet in existence. 
The Siege of Troy did not occur, as recent 
research has proved, till more than seven hun- 
dred years after Tailte was laid to rest in her 
mighty Mur on the Loch Crew Hills. 

The famous Olympian Games, of which we 
hear so much from time to time, and which, at 
best, were but a pale reflex of those of Tailteann, 
were not yet instituted in the sea-girt province 
of Elis, in ancient Greece, till more than four 
hundred years after King Lughaidh Lamhfada, 
or Lewy of the Long Hand, summoned "All the 
amen of Erinn " to celebrate the Tailteann 
ceremonies on the plains of Royal Meath. 


Even the Kingdom of Athens itself, subse- 
quently so famed for its learning, its art, and its 
culture, was not yet founded by Cecrops and his 
Egyptian colony although it existed long before 
the Olympian Games began till at least more 
than three hundred years after the woods of 
Tailteann resounded to the rush and roar of 
Irish chariots in their thunderous contests for the 
victor's crown. 

Still further away in the dim ages of the 
past and perhaps this may illustrate the 
antiquity of our athletic festival better than all 
the rest the games of Tailteann were celebrated 
in Ireland some three hundred and twenty-five 
years before Pharaoh's daughter discovered 
Moses on the banks of the Nile. 

Historical Facts. 

Unlike the preposterous mythological gods 
and goddesses, to whom, for want of more 
inspiring ideals, the Ancient Greeks instituted 
their games and dedicated their temples, Tailte 
was a real personage, an ordinary human being, 
endowed with ordinary human attributes and 
high accomplishments. She was no impossible 
myth, such as Minerva, Juno, Jupiter, or 
imaginary beings of that kind. 


During her lifetime this distinguished Irish 
queen had taken the trouble to select a particular 
spot in which she wished to be buried. It was 
located on the side of a hill, covered with dense 
forest; but because of its sunlit and beautiful 
situation she had chosen it, and her husband, in 
compliance with her wishes, had it cleared of 
the timber. It took a host of stalwart men 
nearly a year to accomplish the task. 

In this spot Tailte desired her Leath, or tomb, 
should be made, her Cuba, or public lamenta- 
tions, recited, and her Nosad, or funeral rites and 
games, duly celebrated, according to the 
recognised customs of the country. There was 
nothing superhuman about such ordinary facts, 
from which we learn the customs of the people, 
and how distinguished personages were honoured 
in Ireland, three thousand years ago. 



The institution of an Aonach, or Fair, as it is 
sometimes misleadingly called, at any particular 
place, in early pagan times, arose from the burial 
there of some great or renowned personage, such 
as a distinguished king or queen, an illustrious 
warrior chieftain, or a famous man of learning. 

On such an occasion a great national assembly 
was called together, usually by order of the king, 
to celebrate the funeral rites of the deceased, and 
at the same time to avail of the gathering to 
promulgate any improvements or extensions in 
the established laws of the nation. 

When summoned by the Ard Righ, or High 
King, such assemblies were of the greatest 
national importance, and as such were attended 
by all the minor kings, chiefs and nobles, as well 
as by vast multitudes of the people from all parts 
of the five provinces. 


As a national institution the Aonach fulfilled 
three important public functions in the lives of 
the people. Its first object was, to do honour 
to the illustrious dead; secondly, to promulgate 
laws; and, finally, to entertain the people. 

The First Function. 

The first object was carried out with great 
solemnity and impressive ceremonies, in which 
all present played their allotted parts, as strictly 
prescribed by ancient custom and the law. The 
Cuba, or mourning chants, were sung by speci- 
ally invited guests. The Cepdg, which was a 
strange and beautiful dirge, was sung by the 
druids and poets attached to the person or court 
of the deceased. It was initiated by the Chief 
Druid and taken up and improvised by each 
singer in turn, and recounted the family 
history, recited the personal exploits, and 
lamented the loss of the departed. It was no 
ordinary expression of regret ; and its composition 
and intonation evinced an art requiring much 
study, cultivation and practice. Few who have 


(D480) B 

ever heard this weird lament, even as it is sung, 
or chanted, to-day, can ever forget it.* 
Cremation Ceremonies. 

After the Cepdg was sung by the clruids and 
poets assembled around the bier, some very weird 
religious ceremonies were gone through. Next 
morning the body was transferred to an inflam- 
mable pile, and at the close of day the torches 
were lighted at the great fire of the Aonach, and 
the pyre ignited. Then, as the column of black 
smoke ascended, the assembled multitude turned 
their faces to the setting sun, and, raising 
their right hands aloft, saluted the departing 
God of Day. These rites occupied from 
one to three days, according to the rank of the 

This custom, strange to say. although gradually dying 
out, still continues in soine of the more remote Irish- 
speaking districts of the south and west, where the true 
tradition of the ancient Cej>6g may be heard at the present 
day. A learned writer describing it says: " I once heard 
in West Muskerry, in the county of Cork, a dirge of this 
kind, excellent in point of both music and words, impro- 
vised over the body of a man who had been killed by a fall 
from a horse ; it was chanted by a young man, the brother 
of the deceased. He first recounted his genealogy ; eulogised 
the spotless honour of his family ; described in the tones 
of a sweet lullaby his childhood and boyhood; and then, 
changing the air suddenly, he spoke of his wrestling and 
hurling; his skill at ploughing ; his horsemanship ; his 
prowess at a fight in a fair ; his wooing and marriage ; and 
ended by suddenly bursting into a loud, piercing, but ex- 
quisitely beautiful wail, which was again and again taken 
up by the bystanders." 


The Second Function. 

After the conclusion of the religious cere- 
monies, on the fourth day the Ard Righ took his 
place before the royal seat at sun-rise. The minor 
kings, princes, nobles, chieftains, and all persons 
of title to the twenty-sixth degree, together with 
the queens and other noble dames, all took their 
prescribed places, to the right and left of the 
monarch, whilst the assembled people stood in 
silence before him. Then the trumpets blared 
forth, the High King turned to the east, saluted 
the sun, and the assemblage followed suit. 

When the ceremony of saluting the sun was 
over, the Ard Righ, dressed in his splendid 
robes, stood forth and addressed his people. 

Having fittingly alluded to " the Illustrious 
Dead " whose burial rites they had performed, 
he called upon his Arch-Druid, or Chief Ollamh, 
to proclaim the Royal Truce for the period of 
the Aonach, and promulgate the latest laws 
enacted for the realm. 

The " Man of Learning " (Ollamh), respond 
ing to the king's command, ascended a mound 
and read the laws which he had enshrined in 
beautiful poetry. This latter was repeated by the 
lesser ollamhs, druids and bards distributed 


through the multitude, till all present were 
familiar with their legal rights and duties, the 
history of their country, the glories of their king, 
and the war-like deeds of "the Illustrious Dead." 
Then another great fire was lighted, and the 
second function of the Aonach concluded. 

The Third Function. 

Next came the Cuiteach Fuait, or third great 
function, consisting of the Funeral Games in 
honour of the dead ; and it is curious to note how 
this ancient custom of rejoicing after a funeral is 
still practised in many countries. At military 
funerals in almost all parts of the world, as well 
as at public funerals generally, after the deceased 
is laid to rest, the attendant bands cease playing 
their " Dead Marches," and other lugubrious 
tunes, and immediately strike up the liveliest airs 
in their repertoire. Whence this custom came 
can never be determined, since it existed before 
history began to be written. 



The Cuiteach Fuait, as these funeral games 
were called, consisted of athletic, gymnastic and 
equestrian contests of various kinds, and in- 
cluded running, long-jumping, high-jumping, 
hurling, quoit-throwing, spear-casting, sword- 
and-shield contests, wrestling, boxing, swim- 
ming, horse-racing, chariot-racing, spear or 
pole jumping, slinging contests, bow-and-arrow 
exhibitions, and, in fact, every sort of contest 
exhibiting physical endurance and skill. In 
addition, there were literary, musical, oratorical, 
and story-telling competitions ; singing and danc- 
ing competitions, and tournaments of all 
kinds. Also, competitions for goldsmiths, jewel- 
lers, and artificers in the precious metals; for 
spinners, weavers and dyers ; and the makers of 
shields and weapons of war. All were conducted 
under specially prescribed conditions; and 


articles of guaranteed home-manufacture were 
examined and tested with the greatest care. 

The Fair " Not a Special Function. 

Finally, and more as a mere consequence than 
as a special function, the Aonach partook of the 
nature of a great market or fair. All kinds of 
food, merchandise, live-stock, household utensils, 
cloth, arms, and articles of wearing apparel were 
on exhibition, as well as for sale. Foreigners 
were not excluded from the fairs, and it is 
specially recorded that the Greeks, as distin- 
guished from our less distant foreign neighbours, 
had special " Great Marts " of their own allotted 
to them for the sale of precious gems, jewellery, 
gold ornaments, and many coloured silken 
cloaks. In fact, merchants and dealers of all 
kinds availed themselves of these great assem- 
blies, and, exhibiting their wares, appear to have 
pushed a lively trade. 

Such was the character of the ancient AotiAi , 
many of which were held in ancient Ireland long 
before Rome was founded. The most important, 
however, were Aonach Tailteann in Meath, 
Aonach Carman in Wexford, and Aonach 
Colmain on the Curragh of Kildare. 


The Bye-Laws of the Aonach. 

All those great gatherings, it should be 
remembered, were regularly organised assem- 
blies. They were regulated strictly, and in 
detail, by legally prescribed bye-laws, the 
transgression of which, in many instances, meant 
death. A universal truce was proclaimed in the 
High King's name, and woe betide the man who 
broke it. No one could be arrested for any 
previous offence, nor could anyone be distrained, 
detained, or otherwise vexatiously interfered 
with, either whilst going to, attending at, or 
returning from the Aonach. All feuds, fights, 
quarrels and such-like disturbances were strictly 
forbidden and severely dealt with ; and all known 
criminals were rigorously excluded from both the 
games and the assembly. It is interesting to 
note that almost identical bye-laws were subse- 
quently instituted and enforced at Olympia. 

Women Specially Protected. 

Under the bye-laws special protection was 
afforded to women of all classes. They were not, 
as at Olympia (in this respect only did 
the latter bye-laws differ from the Irish), 


excluded from the assembly, but, on the 
contrary, special features were provided to 
attract their attendance ; and a curious match- 
making mart and marriage ceremony were 
established on the grounds. A particular en- 
closure with stands was provided for their 
exclusive use, and this was called the Cot, or 
Cotha, whence comes the French word Coterie. 

Elopements Forbidden. 

The romance of true love, and the out- 
manoeuvring of unrelenting parents appear to 
have been rather prevalent in ancient Erinn in 
those days, since we find elopements, during the 
truce, most rigorously banned, lest the absence of 
parents or guardians at the Aonach might be 
availed of by lovers. It was, in fact, deemed 
" a heinous offence," and the abduction of a 
lady, against her will, brought down the wrath 
of the monarch himself on the head of the 
offender. Nevertheless, this offence was not 
uncommon in Ireland as late as a hundred years 

Some Contrasts. 

In the foregoing respect, it should be 
mentioned, the moral obligations in force in 


Ireland, at least during these celebrations, were 
strikingly in contrast with those in ancient 
Greece, when the Olympian Games were estab- 
lished some hundreds of years later. And as to 
Ancient Rome, there does not appear to have 
been any moral obligations imposed on any- 
one at any time ! The Lu di of Ancient Rome 
however, did not come into existence until some 
eleven hundred years after the institution of 
Tailteann, and they degenerated rapidly into a 
carnival of licensed debauchery. 



The story of these ancient Irish games is, 
shortly, this : Eochaidh (Aughy) Mac Ere was 
a famous monarch of Ireland in the very earliest 
days of her history. He wa3, in fact, the last 
King of the Firbolgs, and occupied the throne 
when the invading colony of Tuatha De Danaan 
landed on our shores more than three thousand 
eight hundred years ago (1897 B.C.). 

Eochaidh advanced from Tara with a host of 
chiefs and legions of men to expel the invaders 
who were encamped at Moytura, near Cong, in 
Co. Mayo, and the king engaged them in battle. 

According to St. Colum Cille, this Battle 
of Moytura (Magh Tuireadh) was the most 
strenuous, if, indeed, not the most amazing, 
battle recorded in our whole history. It is 


recorded in many ancient MSS. and is referred 
to by O' Curry as one of the first authentic events 
in our chronological history. In this battle 
Eochaidh Mac Ere, the husband of Tailte, was 

Irish Intercourse with Spain. 

For many years before his death this ancient 
Firbolg king had been in constant communi- 
cation, and close business relationship, with 
Spain, and had married Tailte, the daughter of 
Magh Mor, a well-known Spanish King. This 
royal princess, in whose honour the Tailteann 
Games were originally instituted, was not only 
a very beautiful and stately woman, but one of 
the most learned and accomplished ladies in the 
whole of Europe. She is said to have mastered 
every science, art, and knowledge, not only in 
Europe, but even in the Eastern World ; and co 
have earned and deserved the reputation of being 
" the most distinguished druidess in the Western 

Queen Tailte. 

Tailte came to Ireland as the queen of 
Eochaidh Mac Ere more than nineteen centuries 
before the Christian era, and took up her abode 


in the royal palace of Tara. Here she won the 
universal esteem and admiration of "All the men 
of Erinn " both for her beauty and wonderful 
accomplishments. She instructed the ollamhs 
and druids in many arts that redounded to the 
honour and glory of her adopted country. Under 
her benign influence peace and harmony reigned 
throughout the land, until the coming of the De 

Tailte's Tomb. 

Some time previous to her husband's death 
Queen Tailte had personally selected her own 
burial place. It was a beautifully situated spot 
on the sun-lit slopes of Caill Cuain, in the midst 
of a great rolling forest. At her request the 
encircling trees were cut down and removed, and 
a large area on the green hillside reserved for her 
leacht, or tomb. This spot appeared like a great 
glistening emerald, reflecting the sunshine from 
within its sombre setting of surrounding forest. 
It was truly a beautiful place, and could be seen 
from the doors of her favourite palace (at 
Teltown) some twelve miles away. In this spot 
she had decreed that her Aonach should be held, 
her Cuba sung, and her Nosadh celebrated, when 
she had passed away. 


Her Foster-Son Lugh (Loo). 

Fosterage at that time, as in subsequent 
years, was customary in royal families in Ireland, 
and Tailte had taken a noble youth of tender 
years to be fostered at her court. His name was 
Lugh, or Lugaidh (Louie), Mac Eithleen, and 
although of the invading race who had slain her 
husband, she had him brought up most carefully 
under her own personal instruction. She paid 
particular care and attention to his education, and 
taught him every art, science and mystery known 
to herself; so that when he afterwards ascended 
the throne, he was one of the most learned men 
and accomplished warriors in Erinn. 

Tailte Laid to Rest. 

King Lugh lived at his great palace at Nas 
(now Naas, in Co. Kildare), and on the death of 
Tailte at her residence near Teltown, in Co. 
Meath, he had her interred in her " green circle 
on the distant hills." She was buried in royal 
state, with impressive druidical rites, on the side 
of Caill Cuain (now called Sliabh Caillighe) ; her 
Cuba was duly sung, and her Nosadh celebrated, 
as she had wished. 



The foregoing facts are recorded in one of our 
oldest writings, from which the following excerpt 
is taken as an interesting specimen of ancient 
Irish composition : 


Taillfcen, why so called? Answer: Tailtiu, daughter 
of Madh M6r, the wife of Eochaidh Garbh, son of Duach 
Temin ; it was by him the ' Mound of the Strangers ' at 
Tara was made ; and she was the foster-mother of Lugaidh, 
son of Scol Balbh, and it was she that requested her husband 
to cut down Caill Luain, that there should be an Aonach 
around her Leacht (tomb) ; and she died on the Kaland of 
August after that, and her Guba (lamentations) and her 
Nosad (funeral rites and games) were celebrated by Lugadh. 
Unde Lug Nosad dicitur." Five hundred years, moreover, 
and three thousand before the birth of Christ this occurred ; 
and this assemblage was celebrated by every king who oc- 
cupied Erinn till Patrick came. And four hundred years 
it continued to be celebrated in Taillten from Patrick to 
the Black Fair of Donchad, son of Fland, son of Malachy. 
Three prohibitions were upon Taillten, namely, to pass 
through it without alighting ; to see it over the left 
shoulder ; and to throw a cast (of a spear) in it which does 
not reach its mark. Unde the Fair of Taillten dicitur, of 
which is said the following : 

You nobles of the land of comely Conn, 

Listen to us for our blessing ; 

Till I relate to you the ancient history 

Of the origin of the Aonach Tailtiu. 

Tailtiu, daughter of renowned Madh M<5r, 

Wife of Eochaidh Garbh, son of Duach Ball. 

Was thither brought by the Firbolg host 

To Caill Cuain, after a co-valiant battle. 

* Lug Nosad (i.e.. Loo Nosa), from which Lamtnastule 
is derived. 



Caill Cuain, tall and stately were its trees 
From Eisgir to Ath n-Droman ; 
From Monad Mor, of great adventures ; 
From Aill to Ard na Suigi. 


From Suigi of the Suighe Sealga, 
Whither went the Companies of Druim Dcarg. 
From the wood eastward the chariot heads did pass 
Into Ath Find from Cuil Clochar. 


The confluence of Curach, the head of the river, 
The hill of Banba where spears are wont to be. 
The hounds of Cairpri were triumphant 
Over the borders of Tipra Mungarge. 


Many the heroes of the pagans, 
The battles, the battalions, the great fires 
That were engaged in felling Caill Cuainn, 
Delightful was the host of the Firbolgs. 


When she had felled the beautiful wood, 
And having cleared its roots out of the ground, 
Before the end of one year it was Crieg Muigh, 
It was a flowery plain adorned with shamrocks. 

By Order of the King. 

On the death of Tailte a great national Aonach 
was ordered by King Lugh to solemnise her 
funeral rites and institute the commemoration 
games already described ; and the Cuiteach Fuait, 
or funeral games, continued to be celebrated as 
an annual celebration on the first of August 
(Lammastide) for many centuries. Occasionally 
they were interrupted for one reason or another, 
but as time rolled on they were revived again by 
succeeding High Kings and on each occasion with 


increased splendour, until at length the Aonac 
Tailteann became one of the greatest and most 
firmly established institutions in the nation. 

A Dress Parade of Kings. 

It would be no easy task, indeed, to convey 
any true or adequate idea, at the present day, of 
the magnitude and magnificence of this ancient 
celebration as it continued in its ever-increasing 
splendour adown the centuries. 

Even at that time it had become famous all 
over Europe. Knowledge of it had extended into 
ancient Greece, and inspired the institution of 
the great Olympian Games at Elis, in the year 
1222 B.C. 

Like to our Irish Horse Show, which has 
developed from a comparatively small and 
insignificant gathering into its present dimen- 
sions, attended as it is by visitors from all parts of 
the world, as a parade of fashion, the Tailteann 
Games ultimately attained gigantic proportions, 
and became a veritable full-dress parade 
of kings and queens and royal personages, 
descending in " grades of honour and nobility 
to the twenty-sixth degree." It was attended 
by their long retinues of lords and ladies, 
chiefs and champions, ollamhs, bards and 


poets; men of science and of learning, artificers 
and warriors, each bedizened in his or her 
particularly distinctive dress of brilliant colours, 
as prescribed by law. 

A Vision of the Past. 

It must be remembered that those were the 
days when personal adornment had reached its 
climax of superb and royal splendour; when 
every king and queen and prince and chief, with 
their attendant lieutenants and personages- 
in-waiting, presented a veritable pageant of 
glory in their costumes and apparel. Their 
head-dresses were either crowns, or crescents, 
or helmets, of burnished steel, silver, or 
gold ; their adorned hair was interwoven 
with golden spirals and their plaited locks 
were pendant with golden balls : their necks 
were encircled with collars and torques 
of gold inlaid with sparkling gems and 
rich enamels. Their beautiful silken cloaks, in 
rich colours of every shade and hue, hung from 
their shoulders in flowing folds, and were fastened 
and held in position with jewelled clasps and 
great brooches of gold and silver and bronze 
of exquisite design and workmanship those 
beautiful things we now see preserved in the 


(D480) C 

Royal Irish Academy or the National Museum. 
Those were the days when lenas or shirts of noble 
men and women were made of many-coloured 
Oriental silks, embroidered with threads of silver 
and of gold, and their sandals and leg-straps were 
of leather adorned with red enamel and "snow- 
white bronze" : when every king and chief and 
noble warrior appeared in public bearing a 
burnished shield, graven with wonderful designs, 
and embossed with gold, and wearing swords 
with inlaid and richly jewelled hilts : when their 
prancing war-steeds were radiantly caparisoned 
with gold -embroidered draperies, silver collars 
with tiny golden bells, and jewelled bridles of red 
enamelled leather. 

Conceive, then, the plains of Royal Meath 
crowded for miles with such a magnificent 
gathering, and we get some idea of the surpassing 
splendour of the ancient Aon 41 . Such were 
those great National Assemblies in ancient Erinn, 
long before the dawn of Christianity; and such 
they continued to be for more than three 
thousand years, till the days of Roderick 

The Last Celebration. 

Its last celebration, by the last King of Ireland 
(A.D. 1 1 69), was, if we are to judge it by the 

contemporary writers, the greatest and most 
impressive of all. We are told : 


epeArm ocuf LA tet Ctiuinn -oon cti|\ fin ocuf p 
tetfecc A n- gfXAipie ocuf rnApcfluAg 6 tttullAc 
AITDI 50 TtluttAc UAillcer." 

"On this occasion the Aonach Tailteann was 
celebrated by the King of Ireland and the people 
of Leath-chuinn (the northern half of Ireland); 
and their horses and cavalry were spread out on 
the space extending from Mullach Aidi to 
Mullach Tailteann." 

As the distance here given from Mullach A idi 
(now Lloyd's Hill), west of Kells, to Mullach 
Tailteann (now Sliabh na Cailligh), at the Royal 
Cemetery of Tailteann is a span of more than 
seven miles across a beautiful plain in Co. Meath, 
and as King Roderick O'Connor was a rigorous 
upholder of the formalities and observances of all 
Court and State functions, especially as to apparel 
and ornamental jewellery, even to the wearing 
of silken hose and golden garter-clasps such as 
are worn to-day by the Knights of St. Patrick, 
we can easily imagine, then, the radiant splendour 
and superb magnificence of the last celebration of 
Aonach Tailteann. 



The Achilles of Ireland, as we may call the 
far-famed Irish champion, Finn MacCool, is 
undoubtedly one of the greatest athletic figures 
in Irish history. Although tradition and legend 
have woven around his exploits a fabulous fairy 
mantle of the wildest impossibilities, he was, 
nevertheless, a very real and distinguished mili- 
tary commander of unequalled prowess. His 
real athletic achievements and warlike exploits, 
as attested by reliable historical records, were not 
by any means humanly impossible, but some of 
them, certainly, were such as would put the very 
best of our modern athletic champions to shame. 
Nor, indeed, is this to be wondered at when we 
consider the amazing care and attention paid to 
physical culture and development in those days, 
more particularly in the higher grades of society. 


Even in the lowest grades, amongst the gillie, or 
servant class, we find men before whose every- 
day duties the great achievements of our modern 
" Marathon " champions would pale into insig- 
nificance. Those " horse-boys," as they were 
called, of olden times, could keep up, on 
foot, with their masters on the swiftest horses, 
all day long; and repeat the performance each 
succeeding day till the horses became ex- 

Indeed, it was one of the special obligations 
imposed on the lesser kings, the chiefs and the 
nobles, by the exacting "Laws of Fosterage," 
to physically train and intellectually develop 
every foster-child committed to their care, until 
the latter could undergo extremely severe tests in 
every athletic exercise with satisfaction and 
honour. When compared with these tests our 
modern athletic contests are mere child's play. 

t3toSi[8& :<0 x;7r; ; ;... :.!;;<;; [v.v.y. ;. 

The Fianna Eireann at Tailteann. 

In this connection it may be of interest to 
recall the fact that Aonach Tailteann was an 
established recruiting centre and testing station, 
at which Finn MacCool regularly attended with 

* See Appendix II., page 69. 


his officers, to examine and test all candidates 
presenting themselves for commissions in his 
famous legion, the Fianna Eireann. 

Previous to the establishment of this renowned 
military legion, under the command of Finn's 
grandfather, there was no regularly organised 
army in Ireland to protect and defend the 
interests and exact the tributes or taxes of the 
Ard Righ. Every chief had his own warriors, and 
the provincial and local kings were entitled to call 
upon such chiefs to defend their respective local 
interests ; whilst on great national issues, involving 
the armed defence of the entire nation, all the 
lesser kings and chieftains were invited to partici- 
pate, but there was no regular national army 
until the time of Finn's grandfather. 

When Finn MacCool was appointed to the 
command of the Fianna Eireann, it consisted of 
several battalions of selected warriors located in 
the different provinces, under their respective 
chiefs, who were all tried Champions of great 
war-like prowess. As vacancies occurred in the 
ranks, they were filled by examinations and tests 
held at Tailteann, Uisneach, Cruachan and other 
places, during the games held at those centres, 
of which Tailteann was the most important. 


Here, under the eyes of the assembled multi- 
tude the tests were held. The competitors for 
commissions were summoned by a fanfare of 
trumpets and were put through their facings under 
the critical supervision of the A rd Righ and their 
commander, Finn MacCool. To fail was not 
deemed any disgrace as few, indeed, could reach 
such a high standard of athletic proficiency. 

Previous to Finn's appointment to the 
command of the legion the only really 
difficult test was one involving great dexterity 
with shield and sword in personal defence. 
The candidate had to defend himself, in real 
earnest, from the simultaneous attack of no less 
than nine warriors, the aspirant being armed 
with spears and sword in addition to his heavy 
shield. This test, however, seems to have been 
too easy for the new commander, and he accord- 
ingly increased the competitor's task by the 
addition of ten conditions to the already existing 
four. Some of these would, we fear, tax the 
athletic accomplishments of our present day 
military officers. The fourteen tests were : 

1st. No officer of the Fianna shall accept any 
fortune with his wife, but shall select her for her 
moral conduct and accomplishments. 


2nd. No member of the legion shall, under 
any circumstances, insult a woman. 

3rd. No member shall refuse any person for 
trinkets or food. 

4th. No member shall turn his back on or 
fly from nine champions. 

These were the original four conditions, which 
were not sufficiently exacting for Finn, who 
determined to convert all his soldiers into verit- 
able Champions. He accordingly introduced 
the following ten additional conditions for 
qualifications into his famous band : 

5th. No man shall be admitted into the 
Fianna, at the great meetings of Uisneach, nor 
at the Aonach Tailteann, until his father and his 
mother, his tribe and his relatives, give security 
that they shall not avenge his death. So that he 
shall not expect anyone to avenge him but him- 

6th. No man shall be admitted until he is 
accomplished and has mastered " The Twelve 
Books of Poetry." 

7th. No man shall be admitted until, standing 
knee-deep in a wide pit, he has shown that he 
can protect himself, without receiving a scratch, 
with his shield and a hazel stake no longer than a 
man's arm, from the attack of nine warriors, 


simultaneously hurling their nine spears at him, 
from a distance of nine ridges. 

8th. No man shall be admitted until, his hair 
being plaited, he has been chased, at a starting 
distance of one intervening tree, through several 
forests with a host of Fianna in pursuit and with 
full intent to wound him, and he has proved him- 
self competent to escape capture or a wound. 

9th. No man shall be received in whose 
hands shall tremble a champion's arms. 

10th. No man shall be admitted if a single 
braid of his hair be loosened out of its plait in his 
flight through a tangled wood (brushwood, 
scrub, etc.). 

1 1th. No man shall be admitted whose foot 
shall break a single withered branch in his flight 
through a forest. 

12th. No man shall be admitted unless he is 
able to jump over a branch of a tree as high as 
his forehead, and stoop under one as low as his 
knee, without delay in his speed, to show his 

13th. No man shall be admitted unless he can 
pluck a protruding thorn from his heel with his 
hand without hindrance to his speed. 

14th. No man shall be admitted until he has 
first sworn fidelity to the Commander of the 



An interesting item included in the pro- 
gramme of this ancient assembly was that of 
match-making. As an institution, that preroga- 
tive of parents has persisted in Ireland even to 
the present day. At Tailteann, however, 
marriages formed a special feature of the 
Aonach, but whether this circumstance was a 
particular consequence of the probationary 
nature of the " Tailteann Marriage " contract, 
or not, it is now impossible to say. 

Crowds of youths and maidens from all over 
the surrounding districts, " dressed all in their 
best," and accompanied by their parents, 
attended the Aonach. They were not, however, 
permitted, had they not known each other 
before, to even make each other's acquaint- 
ance; the girls were stowed away in a large 
enclosure, and, practically speaking, were com- 
pelled to " shut their eyes and open their arms 

and take what chance would send them," whilst 
the young men, probably, strolled about looking 
at the sports and contests. 

The Match-Making. 

In the meantime the parents assembled 
pretty much as they foregather at the local 
public-house to-day after a fair at the sacred 
mound in the " Marriage Vale," and made 
suitable, or much more likely unsuitable, 
matches for their children. The latter, however, 
were never consulted, and had to take the 
partners selected for them by their natural 
guardians. Even some of the delicate duties of 
the parents on such occasions, such as arranging 
the marriage portions, or " fortunes " as they 
are called, were spared them by the laws of the 
land. The good old laws of those days left 
nothing of that kind to good nature or chance, or 
even to the mollifying influence of a naggin of 
punch "; they specifically laid down the dowry 
in proportion to the means and relative ranks or 
grades of the contracting parties. 

The matches having been satisfactorily 
concluded, the selected couples were led 
forthwith to the Tulach-na-Coibche, or " Mound 
of the Buying," where the bride-price was duly 
handed over and the ceremony celebrated. 


Close to the " Marriage Vale " in which the 
Tulach-na-Coibche stood, there was, curiously 
enough, a pair of mounds or hillocks, upon 
which, should any newly- wedded pair regret 
their lot within a year and a day, they could, 
by going through a curious pagan ceremony, 
dissolve their unhappy union. 

The two mcunds, or, at least, all that remains 
of them, which were known as the " Hills of 
Separation," are to be seen there to-day. A 
well-known historian and archaeologist who 
made a very careful and searching examination 
of the district tells us : 

"About forty perches north-west of the spot 
pointed out as the ' Vale of Marriage,' two 
earthen mounds, popularly known as The 
Knocfyans, but which tradition says constitute 
the 'Hills of Separation,' still exist. The 
distance between the bases of the two mounds, 
which run parallel, is about ten feet, and the 
gradual slope at each end of both affords an 
easy means of ascent and descent." 

The length of these two mounds is, roughly, 
about a hundred yards, and their height about 
thirty feet. 


Such were the twin altars of nuptial renunci- 
ation upon which the " incompatibilities of 
temper " were adjusted by a curious pagan 
ceremony, where the united couple " turned 
their backs upon one another " for ever. 

The husband and wife, having decided 
within the allotted time of " a year and a day " 
(no longer period was allowed) to dissolve their 
union, met at the mounds, on the occasion of 
the next annual Aonach; both ascended the 
same mound from opposite ends, at the same 
time, and, meeting midway on the summit, 
questioned each other as to their resolve to part. 
Having mutually agreed, they both turned to the 
east, facing the rising sun, saluted it, and 
the husband, announcing to the assembled 
multitude the reasons for their estrangement, 
proclaimed his intention to live with his wife 
no longer. Then, turning their backs 
towards one another, the unhappy couple 
walked to opposite ends of the mound 
and descended. Next, the second mound 
was ascended in like manner from opposite 
ends, and the same ceremony gone through; 
but on this occasion the wife and husband 
turned to the west, saluted the Couch of 
the Sun, and the lady made the announcement 


renouncing the partner who had been chosen for 
her and declared she would no longer live with 
him. Again they turned their backs, descended 
in opposite directions, and both had achieved 
their freedom. 

This was, apparently, an easy, simple and 
inexpensive process of divorce, yet, in reality, 
it was not, by any means, quite so easy as it 
appears. Circumstances were such, and the 
moral code so high at that time in pagan Ireland, 
that a public renunciation of the obligations of 
one of their most sacred ceremonies required a 
determination almost heroic, particularly since 
the probability was that neither party would 
ever succeed in securing another partner. So that 
a " Tailteann Marriage " was, in reality, no 
mere loose and happy-go-lucky union to be 
indulged in at leisure and broken at will. 



There were several other assemblies, of a 
somewhat similar nature to Aonach Tailteann, 
held in Ireland in olden times. They were, how- 
ever, much more restricted and provincial in their 
character. They were, indeed, more or less 
local gatherings of annual occurrence, at which 
local and general laws were proclaimed, games 
held, and literary and musical contests adjudi- 

Such, however, was not the case with the 
assemblies known as Aonach Cruachan, cele- 
brated in County Roscommon, and Aonach 
Carman, in Wexford. These partook more or 
less of the character of National Assemblies, and 
were generally attended by the Irish kings 
and nobles of all the provinces. There was also 
a celebrated gathering known as Aonach 
Co/main, to which we shall have to refer. 



The site upon which this ancient assembly 
was held is now occupied by the town of 
Wexford. Like all the other assemblies of this 
kind, it originated in the burial there of a famous 
personage several centuries before the birth of 

The circumstances under which this Aonach 
was originally established are interesting in 
many ways, not the least of which is the fact, 
recorded in several of our oldest manuscripts, 
that the Carman in commemoration of whom it 
was instituted was a Greek lady who came from 
Athens with her three sons. As recorded in the 
ancient MS. known as the " Book of Leinster." 
It runs thus : 

"Carman, why so called? Answer: Three 
men who came from Athens, and one woman 
with them, i.e., the three sons of Dibad, son of 
Dorcha, son of Ainches, i.e., Dian, Dubh, and 
Dothur were their names, and Carman was the 
name of their mother." 

It was believed by the Tuatha De Danaan 
people who then inhabited Ireland, that this 
Grecian lady and her three sons exercised some 


baneful influence in the country which militated 
against the peace and prosperity of the nation. 
The people, therefore, determining to put an end 
to the danger once for all, expelled the sons, 
but not their mother. As the ancient authority 
tells us : 

1. "Listen, O Lagenians of the monuments! 
Ye truth-upholding hosts, 

Until you get from me, from every source, 
The pleasant history of the far-famed 

2. Carman, the field of a splendid fair, 
With a widespread, unobstructed green 
The hosts who came to celebrate it 

On it they contested their noble races. 

3. The renowned field is the cemetery of kings, 
The dearly loved of noble grades ; 

There are many meeting mounds, 
For their ever loved ancestral hosts. 

4. To mourn for queens and for kings, 
To denounce aggression and tyranny, 
Often were the fair hosts in autumn 

Upon the smooth brow of noble old Carman. 


(D480) D 

5. Was it men, or was it a man of great 


Or was it a woman of violent jealousy, 
Gave the name, without the merit of noble 


Bestowed the true name of beautiful Car- 

6. It was not men, and it was not a fierce man, 
But a single woman, fierce, rapacious, 
Great her rustling and her tramp, 

From whom Carman received its first name. 

7. Carman, the wife of the fierce Mac Dibad, 
Son of Dorcha, of legions and choice hospi- 

The son of Ancges, of rich rewards, 
The renowned hero of many battles. 

8. They sought not the profits of industry, 
Through ardent love of noble Banba, 

For they were at all times toilers in the 

The sons of Mac Dibad and their mother. 

9. At length they westward came, 
Dian and Dubh and Dothur, 


From delightful Athens westward, 
And Carman their mother. 

10. They used to destroy upon the Tuatha De 
The wicked malignant race 

The produce of every land unto the shore; 
It was a great, an oppressive evil. 

1 1 . Carman by all-powerful spells 
Destroyed every growing productive fruit, 
After each unlawful art being tried 

By the sons, with violence, with injustice. 

12. Soon as the Tuatha De perceived 

What deprived them of their summer bloom, 
For every evil deed which they wrought, 
They hurled an equal deed upon them. 

13. Critenbel, he was a Sab, 

And Lug Laibech, son of Cachir; 
Becuille in every field entangled them 
And Ai, the son of Ollam. 

14. They said to them when they arrive 
The four warriors of equal valour 
Here is a woman instead of your mother, 
Three men for your three brothers. 


15. Death to ye we choose not, nor desire, 
It is neither our pleasure nor free choice ; 
Assign with openness a proper pledge, 
And depart out of Eriu each of you three. 

16. Those men then from us departed 
They were expelled with great difficulty; 
Though a woman of theirs they left there 
Carman, alive in her narrow cell. 

17. Every oath from which there is no release 
Sea, fire, heaven, and the fair-faced earth 
That in power or weakness they never would 

As long as the sea encircled Eriu. 

18. Carman, who gave death and battles, 
Once so destructive with her spells, 
Received her fate, as she so well deserved, 
Among the oaks of these firm mounds. 

19. Hither came to celebrate her funeral rites, 
To lament her, to inaugurate her Guba, 
The Tuatha De, upon the noble, beautiful 

plain ; 
This was the first regular Aonach Carman. 


20. The grave of Carman, by whom was it dug? 
Will you leam, or do you know? 
According to all our beloved forefathers 
It was Bre, son of Eladan. Listen!" 

The ancient historical poem from which the 
foregoing stanzas are taken, contains seventy- 
nine such verses, giving full and accurate details 
over every circumstance associated with Aonach 
Carman. It enumerates the royal personages, 
and their retinues, etc., who attended this 
great Fair every third year, together with an 
account of all the various contests, literary, 
musical, athletic, horse-racing, etc., as well as 
the vast numbers of people, steeds, chariots, 
chieftains, champions and athletes in attendance. 
Unfortunately, it is much too long to quote in full. 
As a further example of the detailed historic 
account, however, we include the following 
verses giving a list of some of those who attended 
the celebration : 

37." Sixteen kings to me have been recorded, 
By every Sai, and profound historian, 
From Carman of the branchy harbours, 
Who brought hosts into the noble Aonach. 


38. Eight from the populous Dodder 
Renowned hosts ever to be boasted of 
They celebrated the regular fair of Carman 
With pomp, and with bright arms. 

39. Twelve, without an error in the counting, 
Of festive fairs I acknowledge 

To the fierce champion of valour 

Of the regal race of the noble Maistiu." 

Any person breaking the Bye-Laws during 
the Aonach was severely dealt with, as we are 
told : 

56." Whoever transgresses the law of the 

Which Benen with accuracy indelibly 


Cannot be spared on family composition, 
But he must die for his transgression." 

And again, the nature of the competitions : 

57." These are the many great privileges 
Trumpets, harps, wide-mouthed horns, 
Cuisig, timpanists without weariness, 
Poets and petty rhymesters. 


58. Fenian tales of Find an untiring entertain- 


Destructions, cattle-preys, courtships, 
Inscribed tablets, and books of trees, 
Satires and sharp-edged runes; 

59. Proverbs, maxims, royal precepts 
And the truthful instruction of Fithal, 
Occult poetry, topographical etymologies, 
The precepts of Cairpri, and of Cormac; 

60. The Fessa, with the great Feis of Tara 
Fairs, with the Aonach of Emania, 
Annals there are verified, 

Every division into which Eriu was divided. 

61. The history of the household of Tara not 


The knowledge of every territory in Eriu, 
The history of the women of illustrious 

Of Courts, Prohibitions, Conquests. 

62. The noble testament of Cathair the Great 
To his descendants, to direct the steps of 


Each one sits in his lawful place 
So that all attend to them and listen. Listen ! 


63. Pipes, fiddles, chainmen, 
Castanette-players and tube players, 
A crowd of babbling painted masks, 
Roarers and loud bellowers. 

64. They all exert their utmost powers 

For the magnanimous monarch of the 

Until the noble king, in proper measure, 

Upon each art its rightful meed." 

Like that of Tailteann this Aonach became 
an institution of wide repute throughout the 
Europe of those days. It was attended by kings 
and nobles and all classes, from all parts of 
Ireland, and had a market for the rare and costly 
products of the East. 

The records dealing with this Aonach all 
refer to its origin as having been instituted to 
perpetuate the memory of Carman, the Greek 
lady from Athens, and state that many Greek 
merchants attended the assembly, centuries 
before the beginning of the Christian era. 




In olden times in fact, long before the period 
of which we have any historical knowledge it 
would seem that horse-racing must have been a 
popular pastime in Ireland. 

Standing on the very edge of nebulous 
historic time, and listening to the voice of 
Tradition as it floats in to us from the uncharted 
ocean of the past, its sweetest songs are full of 
racing steeds and marvellous riders, contesting 
for wonderful trophies of unheard of beauty. 
Even our very oldest reliable records are full 
of glowing accounts of this glorious " pastime of 
kings," all of which testimony goes to prove that 
racing in Ireland is "as old as the hills." 

In pagan times it became part of the highest 
conception of the pleasures of Tir-na-n-Oge, or 
the Land of Eternal Youth. Some of our oldest 
traditional tales, in recounting the joys of that 
" Land beyond the Grave," tell us that the spirits 
dwelling there race their wonderful steeds along 
the shore on the Plain of Sports, in contests 
with golden currachs on the silver sea. 


The traditional love for horse-racing may 
account for this popular sport continuing its 
unbroken record at the Curragh since its original 
institution there at the Aonach Colmain, long be- 
fore the birth of Christ. At what date this Aonach 
was originally established is not quite clear, but 
our ancient records (Bruden Da Derga) tell us 
that Conari, King of Ireland in the first century 
before Christ, once went with four chariots to 
the Cluichi, or Games, at the Cuirrech Life (the 
Curragh of the Liffey or Kildare). 

In olden times this famous race-course was 
known as the " Curragh of the Liffey," and it 
was then, as it is to-day, the most celebrated 
race meeting in Ireland. The very word Cuir- 
reach itself, according to the ancient Glossary oj 
Cormac of Cashel, signifies race-course. 

Aonach Colmain was held as an annual 
assembly on the Curragh, and it was attended 
then, as it is now, by people from all parts of 
Ireland. The races were always formally opened 
by the king, or one of the princes of Leinster 
acting on behalf of the monarch, and they usually 
lasted for several days. The king's palace was 
built at Knockaulin on the edge of the 
race-course, and the Ard Righ himself dis- 
tributed the prizes to the winners. 


Chariot Races at the Curragh. 

Some of the most picturesque and exciting 
events in the programme of sports at these great 
gatherings was the Chariot Races. These 
contests, which were the oldest of their kind in 
Europe, were conducted under strict rules, 
sometimes with two horses, sometimes with four, 
and the owners sat in their chariots beside their 
standing charioteers, who were the most daring 
and reckless drivers, but capable of accomplishing 
wonderful achievements with their splendid 

The charioteers, dressed in their gaudy 
costumes with short cloaks, or capes, of different 
colours, resembling modern Spanish toreadors, 
stood erect behind their foaming steeds, and held 
them in with elaborately decorated reins, studded 
with red enamel, silver, and gold discs. The pace 
was furious, and, as they dashed along the 
course, wheel to wheel, and neck-and-neck with 
their competitors, clouds of foam and dust rose 
into the air and almost hid them from view. It 
must have been a glorious sight to see a Colmain 
Chariot Race ! 

But all other tastes were equally well catered 
for. The horse-racing was pretty much as it is 


to-day, but no saddles were used, and a single 
rein passing back between the horse's ears 
sufficed, with a guiding whip, to pilot them on 
the course. 

There were, also, intellectual competitions 
which, though less exciting, were none the less 
keenly contested. The poets and musicians and 
story-tellers had their programme here as at 
Tailteann and Carman, and recited or played 
their compositions in public. The outstanding 
features of these competitions were the odes, 
epics, and exciting rhapsodies of the poets; 
the story-tellers' tales of war-like deeds, adven- 
tures and courtships; and the marvellous, if, 
indeed, not magical, compositions of the bards, 
whose musical strains produced laughter or tears 
or slumber, as the performer wished. 

" They all exerted their utmost powers 
For the magnanimous Righ Berba 
Until the noble king, in proper measure, 


Upon each art its rightful meed." 
Such were the famous assemblies of ancient 
Eire. May we live to see them renewed once 
more in modern Ireland ! 





It is not generally known, and will, no doubt, 
surprise many of our otherwise enlightened 
readers to learn that the far-famed Olympic 
Games of Ancient Greece drew the inspiration 
from the still much more ancient games in Ire- 
land. The Hellenic games may, indeed, be 
traced almost directly to the great national 
celebrations of Tailteann, Carman and Colmain, 
not only as their source of origin, but as their 
models for development. So much so, in fact, 
that not merely the idea of the games, but the 
actual games themselves, their sequence at the 
festivities, the rules under which the various con- 
tests were held, and even the very bye-laws, 
regulating the conduct of the people before, 
during, and immediately after the celebrations, 
were all borrowed en masse from those already 


in operation in this country. As Mommsen tells 
us, it falls to the lot of most nations, in the early 
stages of their development to be taught and 
trained by some rival sister nation ; so it fell to the 
lot of Greece to acquire a knowledge of the man- 
ners, customs, and social life generally of Ancient 

In the pre-heroic period of Greece her people 
were practically composed of two classes: the 
pastoral inhabitants occupying the interior, 
mountainous portion of the country, and the 
commercial or seafaring community, who 
inhabited the towns and cities on the low-lying 
sea-board. The latter were the greatest naviga- 
tors, and most adventurous people in Europe in 
those days, and their trading vessels left no part 
of the Western World unvisited in search of 
commerce. Hence it is we find frequent histori- 
cal references to Greek traders as having visited 
Ireland, and established special marts at the 
various Aonaigh in this country, where, we are 
told, they disposed of their golden ornaments, 
jewels, and many -coloured silken cloaks. 

That there was a close and even intimate 
intercourse between the two countries even 
before the great Olympic Games were established 
there can be no doubt. In several of our ancient 


historical MSS. documents of great antiquity 
still preserved in the libraries of Trinity College 
and the Royal Irish Academy, in Dublin, as well 
as in various libraries on the Continent there 
are numerous references to the Greeks and their 
trading in Ireland. For example : 

fin ci 

JIT), mApSAT) t>6O 

mop tiA n-5^11 n- 
1 m-bi-o op if -Apt) 6CAC." 

" Three markets in that auspicious country : 
A market of food, a market of live stock, 
And a great market of the foreign Greeks 
Where gold and noble clothes were wont to 

The ancient poem from which the foregoing 
is taken was written in explanation of the 
origin of Aonach Carman (now Wexford). It 
tells us how that celebrated assembly, with all its 
ceremonies and games, was instituted in com- 
memoration of a distinguished Greek lady who, 
with her three sons, " From delightful Athens 
westward came," at a period anterior to the date 
given by Strabo as that of the institution of the 
Olympic Games. So we have it very clearly 


established that not only did distinguished 
personages come to Ireland from Greece at that 
very remote period in our history, but that enter- 
prising merchants and traders from that distant 
land were sufficiently familiar with our country 
to visit it regularly for the express purpose of 
disposing of their precious wares at our great 
national assemblies. 

It is through the medium of such travellers 
and seafaring communities that widely separated 
nations have, at all times, acquired a knowledge 
of the culture and borrowed the customs of one 
another; and it was thus, undoubtedly, that the 
Greeks became acquainted with the games 
associated with the burial of the " Illustrious 
Dead " in Ancient Ireland. 

If further proof were needed, we have it in the 
games themselves. We find all the Irish games, 
even to hurling, copied and reproduced under 
similar conditions at the Hellenic celebrations; 
at least, all with the remarkable exception of the 
equestrian games, which were not only not 
popular in Greece, but were actually disliked by 
the people. In fact, anything with a horse in it 
was, at that early period, practically taboo to 
them ; and from the very earliest times the horse 
was the bogey or hobgoblin of the Greeks. Even 


in Homer's famous description of the chariot race 
at the funeral games of Patroclus, a certain dread 
of the beautiful steeds may be detected. 

Hence it was from this dread of horses, no 
doubt, that the chariot-racing, which played so 
prominent a part in the Irish games, were 
entirely omitted from the early Olympic Games ; 
and, indeed, were not introduced for some 
centuries. So, also, with the horse-racing, 
which was not included in the Olympic 
programme until much later still and never 
became popular. 

So that with the exception of the equestrian 
items, the games and other ceremonies included 
in the celebrations were, during the earliest 
period, practically identical at both the Tailteann 
and the Olympic festivities, which conclusively 
shows that the latter were clearly borrowed 
from their Irish prototypes. 





One of the most interesting events in modern 
athletics is the Marathon Race. It is a test of 
three of the highest athletic attributes, viz., 
Speed, Endurance, arid Judgment, any two of 
which, without the third, will not enable a 
competitor to achieve success. 

This event is of comparatively recent intro- 
duction in the athletic world, having originated 
in Athens at the first of the modern Ofympic 
Games in 1896; and since those International 
Games only occur every four years, there have 
been but six Marathon Races held up to the 
present, viz. : 

1896, at Athens; 1900, at Paris; 1904, at St. 

Louis; 1908, at London; 1912, at Stockholm; 

1916, (none); 1920, at Antwerp. 
There was no Olympiad held in 1916 in conse- 
quence of the war. 


Its Name. 

The Marathon Race derives its classic 
name, as most people are no doubt aware, 
from a remarkable incident associated with 
the historic battle of Marathon. This famous 
battle was fought in Greece, on the plain from 
which it takes its name, between the Greeks and 
Persians, some 490 years before the birth of 

The Persians, encouraged by numerous 
previous successes, had contemplated^ and had 
actually undertaken, the wholesale invasion of 
Europe, and had reached Greece in their onward 
march. The Greeks realised the danger, and, 
although outnumbered by ten to one, they 
assembled their united forces under Miltiades, 
and engaged the Persians in what was, perhaps, 
one of the most momentous battles in Europe. 

They not only gained the victory, but inflicted 
such a crushing defeat on the invading Oriental 
hordes that their power was completely broken, 
and their designs effectually frustrated for ever. 

At that time mounted couriers were not used 
to carry despatches as they are to-day; and 
military leaders were always accompanied by a 
corps of well-trained runners to carry their 
messages. Hence, according to custom, a runner 


was immediately despatched from Marathon to 
Athens with news of the great victory. 

The courier, aroused to enthusiasm by the 
wonderful, and anxiously waited for tidings he 
bore, ran all the way at top speed, and dropped 
dead on its delivery. It is in commemoration of 
this historic run that the Marathon Race derives 
its name. 

Long-Distance Couriers. 

The distance of the Marathon Race is 42 
kilometres, or about 26 statute miles, but it was 
not the distance that proved too much for the 
ill-fated courier, it was his excessive speed. 

In fact, fifty, or a hundred, or even two hun- 
dred miles, was not anything unusual for an army 
courier in those days. The Peichs, or Persian 
couriers of the Turkish sultans, often ran from 
Constantinople to Adrianople and back, at 
distance of some 220 miles, in two days and 
nights, without any untoward effects, and it is 
interesting to note that they carried silver beads 
in their mouths to allay their thirst during their 

As stated above, the Marathon Race wa* 
instituted by the Greeks when the first modern 
Olympic Games were held at Athens. It was 


a most appropriate tribute in commemoration of 
a distinguished fellow-countryman, and it is no 
less worthy of note that on this occasion also the 
victorious competitor was a Greek peasant. 

Dorando Pietri's Failure. 

As an interesting instance of how speed and 
endurance, uncontrolled by good judgment, failed 
to win the coveted trophy, the Marathon contest 
held in connection with the Olympic Games in 
London in 1908 may be mentioned. It created 
an immense sensation at the time, and excited 
the admiration and sympathy of the world. 

The race was from Windsor to the Stadium 
grounds in the Franco-British Exhibition in 
London, and the first competitor to arrive was an 
Italian named Dorando Pietri. His condition of 
physical collapse, however, was such that, 
appearing to be on the point of death, he had to 
be assisted over the last few yards of the course. 
It was hard luck, but according to the conditions 
he was disqualified, and J. Hayes, an American, 
was adjudged the winner. A special prize was, 
however, presented to Dorando Pietri by Queen 
Alexandra, with universal approval. 





Distance, 310 yards. Major Straker (Eng- 
land), 1897. 

Billiards (B.C.C. Rules). 

2,196 (unfinished). G. Gray (London), March 
17th, 1911. 

Billiards (B.A.). 

Cradle Cannon, 499,135. T. Reece, 3rd 
June to 6th July, 1907. 


Highest Innings : 918 : N.S.W. v. Australia 
(Sydney), June 5th 9th, 1901. 

Individual Scores (First Class) : 424. A. C. 
MacLaren (Taunton), July 16th, 1895. 

Ball Throw: 140 yards. R. Percival (Dur- 
ham, Sands Australia), Easter Monday, 1884, 



One Hour : Push-bike motor (paced), 63 
miles 256 yards. P. Guignard (Munich), July 

One Mile : Standing start (unpaced). 2 min- 
utes 3 seconds. Vic. Johnson (Crystal Palace), 

Discus Throw. 

156 feet 11^ inches. A. Taipale (Finland) 
Madgeburg July 20th, 1913. 

Hammer Throw. 

189 feet 6^ inches. P. Ryan (U.S.A.), 
August 1 7th, 1913. 

Horse Racing. 

One Mile : 1 minute 33 seconds. "Caiman" 
(Lingfield), July 13th, 1900. 

Horse Trotting. 

One Mile : 1 minute 58 seconds. " Uhlan 
Lexington" (U.S.A.), October 9th, 1912. 

Hurdle Racing. 

120 Yards: 14| seconds. E. J. Thomson 
(Philadelphia, U.S.A.), May 29th, 1920. 

Javelin Throw. 

216 feet 3 inches. J. Myrra (Finland). 



High Jump : 6 feet 7-g inches. E. Beeson 
(California), May 2nd, 1914. 

Long Jump : 25 feet 3 inches. E. Gourdin 
(Harvard, U.S.A.), July, 1921. 

Pole Jump: 13 feet 5 inches. F. K. Foss 
(Antwerp}, August 20th, 1920. 

Motor Cycling. 

One Mile: 35| seconds. J. A. MacNeal 
(Omaha, U.S.A.), October 4th, 1914. 

One Hour : 88 miles 350 yards. L. Humiston 
(Los Angelos, U.S.A.), January 7th, 1912. 

Motor Racing. 

One Mile : 29.0! seconds. Beuz (Brooklandsi 
January 22nd, 1914. 

Fijty Miles : 27 minutes 2.33 seconds. Talbot, 
October 27th, 1913. 

One Hour : 1 12 miles 1 ,689 yards. De Palma 
(Sheepshead Bay, U.S.A.), November 16th, 


100 Yards: 9% seconds. J. Donaldson 
(Johannesburg), February 12th, 1910. 


.Running (continued) : 

220 Yards: 2H seconds. W. R. Applegate 
^England), B. J. Wefers, R. C. Craig, D. F. Lip- 
pincott, H. P. Drew and G. Parker (all U.S.A.). 

440 Yards : 47 seconds. M. W. Long (Gut- 
tenberg, New Jersey), October 4th, 1900. 

86$ Yards : 1 minute 52| seconds. J. E. 
Meredith (Philadelphia), May 13th, 1916. 

One Mile: 4 minutes 12-f seconds. N. S. 
Tober (Cambridge), July 16th, 1916. 

Four Miles : 19 minutes 231 seconds. A. 
Shrubb (Glasgow), June 13th, 1904. 

Ten Miles: 50 minutes 40 5 second*. A. 
Shrubb (Glasgow), November 5th, 1904. 

One Hour: 11 miles 1.442 yards. J. Bouin 
(France), Stockholm, July 6th, 1913, Marathon. 


500 Metres : 43? seconds. O. Mathieson 
(Davos), January 17th, 1914. 

1,000 Metres: 1 minute 34* seconds. O. 
Mathieson (Davos), January 31st, 1909. 

One Mile : 2 minutes 27 seconds. F. W. 
Dix (Cowbit), February 6th, 1912. 

Swimming (Bath). 

50 Yards : 23 f seconds. D. Kahanamoku 
;(San Francisco), 1916. 


Swimming (continued) : 

WO Yards : 53 seconds. D. Kahanamoku 
(Honolulu), September 5th, 1917. 

220 Yards : 2 minutes 21 f seconds. N. Ross 
(San Francisco), November 26th, 1916. 

440 Yards : 5 minutes 14^ seconds. N. Ross 
(Los Angelos), October 9th, 1919. 

One Mile : 23 minutes 16| seconds. B. B. 
Kiernan (Sydney, N.S.W.). 


One Mile : 6 minutes 22 seconds. G. Cum- 
mings (Manchester), August 4th, 1913. 

Seven Miles : 50 minutes 44f seconds. G. 
Goulding (N. Brunswick, U.S.A.), October 23rd, 

One Hour : 8 miles 438 yards. G. E. Larner,, 
September 30th, 1905. 

Twelve Hours : 73 miles 145 yards. E. C_ 
Morton, May 2nd, 1914. 

Weight Putting. 

16 Ibs. : 51 feet. R. W. Rose (U.S.A.), San 
Francisco, August 21st, 1909. 



At Billiards. T. Newman. 
At Boxing. Jack Dempsey (U.S.A.). 
At Chess. Senor Capablanca (World). 
At Cricket (Batting). P. Mead. 
At. Cricket (Bowling). E. R. Wilson. 
At Cycling. Moeskops (Holland). 
At Go/f. Jock Hutchison (U.S.A.). 
At Hammer Throwing. P. Ryan (U.S.A.). 
At Hurdle Racing. E. J. Thompson (Can- 
At Jumping (High). R. W. Landon 


At Lawn Tennis. W. T. Tilden (U.S.A.). 
At Rifle Shooting. Sergeant Cunningham, 

At Running (WO Yards). R. W. Applegate 


At Running (/ Mile). A. G. Hill (England) 
At Sculling. E. Barry (England). 
At Seating. O. Mathieson (Norway). 
At Swimming. N. Ross (U.S.A.). 
At Walking. Frigerio (Italy). 


University of California 


Return this material to the library 

from which it was borrowed. 

4 1988 


A 000 033 241^ 






1 by his I 
Parodies and 



etc. Cro 1 . 




A complete Catc. 

The Talbol